An ‘Eers’ Full
MORGANTOWN — West Virginia coach Bob Huggins kept many of the details about his team’s preseason scrimmage games quiet.
Perhaps that’s because he saw the early part of the home schedule and figured there’d be plenty of opportunity for West Virginia fans to see for themselves whether or not the last man off the bench had learned to walk — never mind run — in his system.
In three home games, the Mountaineers (4-1) have scored more than twice as many points as they’ve given up, including Tuesday night’s 110-44 thrashing of Maryland-Eastern Shore.
The 66-point margin of victory — the third-largest in school history — eclipsed a WVU Coliseum record, as West Virginia led by 10 at the 14:58 mark, 20 at the 6:43 mark and 30 at the 4-minute mark — of the first half.
The Mountaineers’ lead reached 70 when John Flowers hit a free-throw with 1:56 remaining in the game before the Hawks rattled off eight of the last 12 points.
It’s games like these that guys like Flowers, a true freshman with a big upside, get a chance to show what they can do — and what they can’t.
Flowers, a prep star from the same state in which the opponent calls home, though he said it didn’t even bother trying to recruit him, scored a career-high 14 points on 5 of 8 shooting.
He displayed the kind of aggressiveness those who’ve followed him closely haven’t seen since he played for current Wheeling Jesuit coach Danny Sancomb at St. Marys Ryken High School last season.
Among his repertoire was back-to-back dunks near the 5-minute mark of the second half.
“That’s my game, that’s what I try to do,” said Flowers, who admitted he’d been “timid” during the team’s first four games but saw plenty of opportunity against the much smaller and outmanned Hawks (1-6).
“I don’t like making mistakes and coming out of the game,” Flowers said. “This is the kind of game where you can make mistakes and learn from them.”
Like his 3-for-10 showing at the free-throw line.
“John’s an aggressive guy,” Huggins said. “We’ve got to get him better defensively. The way he is right now, we can’t play him at the end of a game.”
That’s why Maryland-Eastern Shore appears on the early part of any team’s schedule.
Everybody on the Mountaineers roster played and scored, including first-half contributions from Jonnie West, who hit both of his shot attempts (3-pointers), and 12 points from Wellington Smith. Ted Talkington added five points and four assists, while Josh Sowards tied a career high with six points.
“Jonnie West shot the ball really well in practice, and I wanted to see if he could shoot the ball when you put people in the stands,” Huggins said. “He is getting better. His biggest problem is his lack of strength but he is working really hard at it.”
Not lost in all of this was West Virginia’s starting unit, which did a lot of work to build that lead. Joe Alexander’s 16 first-half points were only two fewer than the Hawks during the same period. He finished with a team-best 22 points and eight rebounds.
Da’Sean Butler added 12 points, and Alex Ruoff, the team’s leading scorer through five games, wound up with 17. The West Virginia bench scored 52 points and was still outscored by the starters.
All told, West Virginia shot 61 percent from the field (45 of 73) and 60 percent (12 of 20) from 3-point range. They outrebounded the Hawks 45-31. The big negative was free-throw shooting, where the Mountaineers were 8 of 17 (47.1) percent.
“I think (Tuesday) we learned that (assistant coach) Billy Hahn has to do a better job with free-throw shooting,” Huggins said with a smile.